by Amanda Foreman
Biographers are notorious for falling in love with their subjects. It is the literary equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomenon which leads hostages to feel sympathetic towards their captors. The biographer is, in a sense, a willing hostage, held captive for so long that he becomes hopelessly enthralled.
There are obvious, intellectual motives which drive a writer to spend years, and sometimes decades, researching the life of a person long vanished, but they often mask a less clear although equally powerful compulsion. Most biographers identify with their subjects. It can be unconscious and no more substantial than a shadow flitting across the page. At other times identification plays....................
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, lived during a period of rapid change. The population was sharply increasing, the national income was rising, roads were improving, and literacy was spreading. Britain was on the verge of becoming a great power, driven by its burgeoning factories at home and fertile territories abroad. But with fewer than ten million people, the country was still small enough to be governed by an aristocratic oligarchy.
There were roughly two hundred peers (as British aristocrats are called) when Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire. There were only twenty-eight dukes, but because of their wealth and rank they exerted a disproportionate influence in politics. As a duchess, Georgiana was one tier below royalty; below her the titles descended in......................
1757 Birth of Lady Georgiana Spencer
First public concert in Philadelphia
1758 Colonel George Washington and John Forbes take Fort Duquesne, later renamed Pittsburgh
1760 George III becomes king on the death of his grandfather, George II..................
I know I was handsome . . . and have always been fashionable, but I do assure you,” Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, wrote to her daughter at the end of her life, “our negligence and ommissions have been forgiven and we have been loved, more from our being free from airs than from any other circumstance.”* Lacking airs was only part of her charm. She had always fascinated people. According to the retired French diplomat Louis Dutens, who wrote a memoir of English society in the 1780s and 1790s, “When she appeared, every eye was turned towards her; when absent, she was the subject of universal conversation.”.........................
Originally published as GEORGIANA: DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE
“A rollicking, delectable account of the life and times of the eighteenth-century political power broker and doyenne of high society.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Foreman’s book is scholarly without the boredom that can accompany that term. In many ways, it reads like a Gothic romance but has none of the bodice-ripping details that make you wince.” —Chicago Tribune..........................
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